Unemployment Building in Kitsap, Because Nobody Else Is

At least 600 local construction jobs have been lost this year, contributing to a 5.8 percent jobless rate.

By Rachel Pritchett


he construction industry has been hammered into oblivion during the current recession. And that’s one big reason that unemployment in Kitsap County is on the rise.

Kitsap’s unemployment rate for November was 5.8 percent, up from 5.5. percent in October, the state Employment Security Department reported Tuesday. Kitsap County began the year with 4.7 percent unemployment.

At least 600 local construction jobs have vanished in the past year, but builders say the real number is much higher. Unemployed construction workers are among a total of 7,310 unemployed people in Kitsap.  

“New construction is just dead,” said Sherryl Suldan, owner of Olympic Personnel of Bremerton.

Hardest hit has been residential construction, which essentially has ground to a halt by banks’ reluctance to lend money on speculative projects.

Commercial construction isn’t so bad off. Drury Construction Co. of Poulsbo actually is hiring, said Vice President Rick Cadwell.

While commercial work is “not like it was three or four years ago,” there “certainly is a bit of work,” he said. All that is being fueled by public entities not as affected by the downturn — the military and highway builders, for instance.

Commercial and public construction nationally is beginning to slow, but enough local projects already are in the pipeline to provide hope, Cadwell said. Major projects on the horizon include expected expansions by Harrison Medical Center, Poulsbo City Hall and work on Bremerton’s Westpark neighborhood.

Nonetheless, industry leaders such as Drury are contemplating branching
out into other types of work to ride out the recession. In Drury’s case, that could include metal buildings or specialty concrete work, Cadwell said.

State Employment Security Department economist Mary Ayala said construction job losses accounted for most of the 11,700 jobs that went away statewide in November. Other hard-hit sectors include retail, and administrative and support services.

Kitsap unemployment remains lower than the state (6.4 percent) and national (6.7 percent) rates.

Washington may catch up with the rest of the nation.

“Just as we saw with the 2002 recession, Washington’s economy held up longer than most of the nation, but we’re quickly catching up now,” said Employment Security Commissioner Karen Lee.

But there still are jobs out there. Kitsap’s largest private employer, Harrison Medical Center, has implemented a hiring freeze on non-essential positions, but openings in local health care are available, Suldan of Olympic Personnel said. 

“Medical, it’s just always in demand,” she said.

Public employers such as Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and the Intermediate Maintenance Facility are expected to hire several hundred positions in the new year. Port Madison Enterprises has three dozen job openings now, and some 17,000 available jobs in Washington are posted at www.go2worksource.com.

Washington is expected to see job growth in health care, social and community-services, engineering, computers and education.

Bill Stewart, director of the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance, said unemployment could continue to rise.

“The hope and expectation would be that it won’t hit levels that we saw in the early 1980s,” he said.

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